IT’S snowdrop time. I think these are amongst the most beautiful flowers, and the message that spring is on the way is so welcome.
There are about 20 varieties throughout Europe and the Middle East. The one found in the wild here is the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), which is not a native. It was probably brought here in the 16th century and was first recorded as naturalised in the UK in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in 1770.
We have lived here for about ten years and I have got to know the nearby roads pretty well. There are masses of snowdrops on the roadsides in thick clumps like this.
This year I have seen snowdrops on a bank where I am sure I have not seen them before. Additionally they are more dispersed than usual.
The books say they spread (1) by bulb offsets (2) by seed (3) by animals and (4) by floods. I would say (1) is not likely as there are no other clumps within bulb-offsetting range and (4) more or less impossible as it is a steep bank which does not flood. That leaves seeds and animals. We have plenty of grey squirrels and I wonder if they have been digging them up somewhere and burying them. If so, they have been very busy.
There are many ornamental varieties of snowdrop – you can see 48 on this website – but honestly I can’t see that any are an improvement on the wild one.
THE lambs have started to arrive round here so I thought it would be an opportunity to show a few videos. First there are couple with lambs playing (in one of them the games look a bit grown up).
Then my favourite lamb video, which I have shown before but it is worth another look.
While looking up that one, I found another by the same chap, an Australian I think.
Lastly, I came across this one which is not about lambs. My first thought was that it was staged, but I really don’t think it can be.
Goat of the week
Since we’ve got sheep above, I’m writing about goats for a change.
When we moved here I was a bit unsure about the difference between sheep and goats, or at least some of the more exotic sheep. A farmer gave me the clue – a sheep’s tail goes down and a goat’s tail goes up. There is also a big difference in temperament, sheep tending to be shy and goats extremely bold. (They used to have goats roaming at large in the children’s zoo at London Zoo. I was there one day (as an adult) when I felt a tug and looked down to see a goat with a circular patch of my skirt in its mouth. It had bitten it clean off.)
The British Goat Society lists 15 breeds. This is an Anglo-Nubian.
It is one of the largest goats. It comes in many shades of black, brown, cream and white, plain or patterned, and is distinguished by its long floppy ears and roman nose. The coat is short and glossy. Some have short horns, most don’t. They are renowned for their fecundity: twins, triplets or even quadruplets being common if the mother is well looked after.
Its origins lie in the India, the Middle East and North Africa, particularly Egypt. In the 19th century P&O steamships would load some lop-eared goats from the area before setting off for home in order to have fresh milk and meat available during the voyage. The survivors would be sold at the port of arrival, and no matter where they came from were called Nubians. They were cross-bred with native British goats to produce the Anglo-Nubian, which is tolerant of heat and is now found in 60 countries. It is reared for milk and meat. The milk yield is not as high as in some Swiss goat breeds, but it has a higher percentage of fat.
Most of the videos I found are from America, and this is one.
You can read more at the Anglo-Nubian Breed Society website.
Wheels of the Week
HERE’S another contribution from reader and motorbike enthusiast DEREK REYNOLDS.
This is a 1982 500cc Moto Guzzi V50III, which I bought third- or fourth-hand in the late 1990s and used as my despatch bike for the next seven years.
Moto Guzzi was founded in 1921 by Giorgio Parodi and his friend Carlo Guzzi, who, along with another comrade Giovanni Ravelli, were in the Italia Air Corps. Ravelli died during a test flight in 1919, and in commemoration Parodi and Guzzi chose as a motif for their machines the outstretched eagle seen on all models to this day.
A more detailed history of the marque can be read here.
My bike was a shaft-drive with an air-cooled 90° ‘V’ twin engine. Though lacking the power of the bigger Guzzis, it was a light and nimble machine which gave adequate performance for 274,000 miles, though not without some breakdowns.
At 107,000 miles, whilst overtaking traffic in the outside lane of the M3, it dropped two valves – exhaust and inlet on the left-hand cylinder. This at 70mph-plus. The engine noise ceased with a short sharp ‘drrrrr’, upon which I whipped the clutch in and put my right arm into the air – denoting failed engine as per GP practice – and the traffic behind slowed as I threaded my way on to the hard shoulder.
On another occasion at Hyde Park Corner, the clutch gave out – completely. I could not disengage at all – it was in permanent drive. But by ‘paddling’ the bike forward with my feet, then snicking into first gear at walking pace, and carefully selecting other gears by listening to the engine revolutions, I was able to ride the bike all the way home.
Modifications I made during my ownership gave the windscreen and fairing extended hand protection (from the weather), and a large pair of handlebar muffs and electrically heated grips which saw me through the coldest of winters with toasty warm hands.
I sold it in 2011 in good running order.
FINALLY, a reminder that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: email@example.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.